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Californians worry about poverty, income inequality, poll finds

A new California Counts survey found seven out of 10 respondents believe the number of people living in poverty is a “major” problem. There was wide agreement, regardless of race, political affiliation, income level or age. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

A majority of Californians believe poverty is a serious problem, but they disagree over what to do about it. That’s according to a survey conducted for our California Counts public radio collaboration.

The CALSPEAKS survey asked hundreds of voters and some nonvoters across California how they feel about a range of economic issues, from home ownership and job security to wage disparity and upward mobility.

“More feel scared than say that they feel hopeful,” said Sacramento State University political scientist David Barker, who directed the CALSPEAKS survey. The poll asked Californians to weigh in on a laundry list of issues relating to the November election.

California Counts Poll: Number Of People Living In Poverty
 

The survey found that seven out of 10 respondents believe the number of people living in poverty is a “major” problem. There was wide agreement, regardless of race, political affiliation, income level or age. Two-thirds of Californians also believe income inequality is a major problem. (The cost of health care was another top concern, considered a problem by 70 percent of respondents.)

As to solutions, one-third of those polled “strongly favor” the state’s recent $15/hour minimum wage bump approved by the state legislature in March. Another 26 percent “somewhat” favor the pay increase.

“You could simultaneously view poverty as a problem but not want to raise the minimum wage,” said Barker. “The more conservative (people) would say there needs to be less regulation to free up the markets so more people can get hired.”

The hike in the state minimum wage came nearly a year after the Los Angeles City Council and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed $15/hour minimum wages of their own.

California Counts Poll: $15 Per Hour Minimum Wage
 

Robert Nothoff, of the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy,  said those efforts were driven in large part by the L.A. region’s large pool of low-wage immigrant workers.

“It was really the immigrant community pushing, telling us what it takes to make ends meet and leading the charge to raise the bar for all workers across the state,” said Nothoff.

Respondents to the CALSPEAKS survey were split over the broader question of whether immigrants (from Asia and Latin America specifically) help or hurt the state’s economy.

The poll found that 38 percent believe immigrants weaken the economy “a little” to “a lot,” while 47 percent believe immigrants strengthen the economy “a little” or “a lot.”

California Counts Poll: Immigration And The Economy
 

When it comes to illegal immigration specifically, 45 percent of respondents say it’s a “major” problem. Another 29 percent view it as a “minor problem,” while 23 percent think it’s little to no problem at all.

California Counts, a statewide public media election collaborative, contracted with the CALSPEAKS Opinion Research Center at the Institute for Social Research, Sacramento State University, to conduct an extensive survey of Californians’ electoral and public policy attitudes.

The Institute for Social Research fielded the survey online and through the mail from Aug. 15 to 24, 2016, using the CALSPEAKS survey panel. It yielded 915 completed surveys and 44 partially completed surveys. CALSPEAKS obtains a representative sample of Californians, stratified by the five major regions in the state. For information on the methodology, please visit: www.csus.isr/CALSPEAKS. The margin of error for the distribution of responses on any individual survey item is equal to or less than +/- four percentage points.

California Counts is a collaboration with four public media organizations in California to cover the 2016 election. This includes KPCC in Los Angeles, KQED in San Francisco, Capital Public Radio in Sacramento and KPBS in San Diego.

Series: California Counts

California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what's important to the future of California.

Read more in this series and let us know your thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #CACounts.